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Esa-Pekka Salonen


San Francisco Symphony


Prélude à L’Après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun)
Claude Debussy
Oiseaux exotiques
Olivier Messiaen
Aile du songe [San Francisco Symphony Premiere]
Kaija Saariaho

La Mer

Claude Debussy
All sound clips are from San Francisco Symphony performances and are used with permission of the SFS Players Committee.


Davies Symphony Hall

Thu, Oct 14, 2021 at 7:30PM

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Davies Symphony Hall

Fri, Oct 15, 2021 at 7:30PM

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Davies Symphony Hall

Sat, Oct 16, 2021 at 7:30PM

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Davies Symphony Hall

Sun, Oct 17, 2021 at 2:00PM

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If you would like assistance purchasing tickets for patrons with disabilities, please call the box office at 415-864-6000.

Event Description

The magic of the natural world is at the heart of this program featuring Esa-Pekka Salonen and the SF Symphony. Bookended by Claude Debussy’s voluptuous Prélude à L’Après-midi d’un faune (Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun) and evocative La Mer, the program is anchored by two works inspired by the majesty of birds. Jeremy Denk takes on Olivier Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques (Exotic Birds), which incorporates the songs of 47 species of birds, while SF Symphony Collaborative Partner and flutist Claire Chase performs Kaija Saariaho’s Aile du songe (Winged Dream).

At a Glance

After the first concert performance of Prélude à L’Après-midi d’un faune, the Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé—whose poem inspired Claude Debussy’s work—sent to the composer a copy of the poem, inscribed with these lines: “Sylvan spirit, if with your primal breath/Your flute sounds well,/ Hear now the radiance/ When Debussy plays.”
Birdsong plays a central role in Olivier Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques, in which forty-seven different examples are woven into the fabric of the piece. The composer referred to this work as “almost a piano concerto”—one that featured his wife, Yvonne Loriod, at its premiere—and he also cited the pair of clarinets and the xylophone as particularly “in the foreground” in both their musical input and their placement on the stage.
Kaija Saariaho’s 2001 flute concerto Aile du songe (Wing of the Dream) draws inspiration from a lengthy poem by the French writer Saint-John Perse, who often drew on imagery of birds. In her first movement, Saariaho parallels Perse’s contemplations of birds in the air, while the second considers birds on terra firma. Together, the movements describe the bird as (to quote the poet) “a tiny satellite of our planetary orbit.”
It was during youthful summer weeks spent at the beaches of Cannes that Debussy learned to love the sea, particularly its unpredictability, its ever-changing nature. La Mer was only the composer’s seventh major orchestral score, but it is so brilliantly assured that it sometimes seems like Debussy invented the modern orchestra.
After notes by James M. Keller and Michael Steinberg

For more information, including full program notes, visit the San Francisco Symphony’s digital program book platform at or text “SFS Concert” to 55741.


Concert Extras

Pre-Concert Talk: Peter Grunberg will give an “Inside Music” talk from the stage one hour prior to the October 14-17 performances. Free to all concert ticket holders; doors open 15 minutes before.
Off-The-Podium: A post-concert audience Q&A session with moderator Peter Grunberg will be presented from the stage immediately following the concert on October 15. Free to all ticket holders.